Portland Trail Blazers (33-26) vs. Phoenix Suns (18-42)
Saturday, February 24th - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Suns injuries: Tyson Chandler (day-to-day), Tyler Ulis (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Bright Side of the Sun
Portland faces off with the Suns for the fourth and final time this season. The Blazers have won all three matchups, including a 48-point rout in Phoenix on opening night. Phoenix has performed better in the two matchups in Portland, but the Blazers still won both by seven points.
Portland and Phoenix both played Friday night. The Blazers put together a solid effort in an easy 100-81 win over the Jazz in Utah. After giving up 30 points in the first quarter, Portland held the Jazz to 17 points in each of the final three frames. Meanwhile the Suns struggled in a 128-117 home loss to the LA Clippers.
What to watch for
- Stopping the Suns backcourt. Phoenix guard Devin Booker is the Suns’ best scorer by far. This year’s NBA Three-Point Contest winner, Booker is averaging 24.2 points per game this season. Outside of the season opener, he’s played well against the Blazers, putting up 34 and 43 points, respectively, in the two games since. Phoenix made a trade deadline deal for Magic point guard Elfrid Payton. Since joining the Suns, Payton has put up 17.8 points, 8.0 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game — well above his season averages of 13.0, 6.3 and 4.0. The sample size is small (four games; all losses), but so far Payton seems to be fitting in well with his new team.
- An advantage from beyond the arc. The Blazers are third in the NBA in 3-point percentage at 37.9 percent while the Suns, at 33.2 percent, are last. In the three games against Phoenix this season Portland has been lights out from deep. Their 3-point percentage in these games (49.4) is higher than their overall field goal percentage (47.8). The Suns have shot slightly better than their season average against the Blazers (34 percent), but Portland has had a significant advantage from beyond the arc in the matchup so far this season.
- Avoiding a let down. Portland dominated a good Jazz team in an important division game Friday night. They can’t sleepwalk into Talking Stick Resort Arena on Saturday and expect to win without putting forth any effort. Teams with playoff aspirations like the Blazers need to put games like this away quickly.
What they’re saying
Are the Suns tanking? GM Ryan McDonough says the team will not be tanking, according to Scott Bordow of AZ Central Sports:
Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.
“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”
McDonough said interim coach Jay Triano is free to do whatever he thinks will give the Suns the best chance to win, and Triano said he has no interest in playing for a better lottery position.
“I have been told nothing other than try to win games,” he said. “So my goal is to try to win, and that is not tanking.”
On the other hand, writing for Bright Side of the Sun, Dave King argues that the Suns don’t need to intentionally try to tank:
The Suns don’t have to tank. They’ve already been trotting out the youngest, least-experienced roster in the league, potentially in NBA history, and have already established a pattern of regular rest for any player historically proven to positively impact a team’s winning percentage.
Plus, they already have the league’s toughest remaining schedule among those fighting for the right to choose between DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and others, so staying in pole position can’t be that hard.
Kevin Zimmerman of Arizona Sports looked at five questions for Phoenix’s homestretch. One of them involved the fit of newly acquired point guard Elfrid Payton:
Yes, Payton gives Phoenix a better distributing point guard — arguably the best out of the pick-and-roll since Steve Nash left at the start of this decade — but his inability to stretch the floor and his defensive holes put the Suns in a weird position.
He’s a restricted free agent, but even a reasonable deal will tie down more than $20 million at point guard when considering Brandon Knight should be able to return around the beginning of next season. Still, if Payton is averaging close to 20 points to go with eight or nine dimes per game, the Suns have to think about re-signing him.